September 16, 2004
A Parent’s Mercy
It was about this time last year that my 2 1Â¼2-year-old son decided to begin his terrible twos. At first we hoped that we'd been given a reprieve, but we soon discovered otherwise. He was apparently intent on making up for lost time.
I never knew what he would do next, or what the next casualty might be. If I ever took an afternoon nap, I had to mentally brace myself before re-entering the war zone -- I mean living room.
But whatever he did -- and he did plenty -- he always had the same line when he got caught. It came with big brown eyes opened wide, and the sweetest smile: "I not gonna do it a-n-y-more."
At first, we actually believed him. But we learned quickly. It became a joke at times, a source of frustration at others. But he continued to say it with the same childish innocence, and we continued to not buy it with the same parental cynicism -- until our perspective changed.
It was the end of the second day of Rosh Hashanah. My neighbor and I were sitting on a bench, watching our children play as the darkening sky brought the holiday to a close. The kids were playing tag in the street (this is Israel, after all), when we saw a truck coming down the road. The kids dashed for the sidewalk.
Suddenly I realized that Meir wasn't among them.
"Did you see Meir?" I asked my neighbor.
My heart pounding, I looked around. No Meir.
Calm down, I told myself. Maybe he just went into the house.
My daughter went to check. She came right back out again and reported that the door was locked.
Locked? I hadn't locked the door. How could it be locked?
I looked up at our apartment. To my relief, the gate to the yard was open. I asked one of the boys to climb up and jump the fence while I waited outside the front door. The boy opened it with a big smile and pointed to the kitchen.
I walked in to find Meir seated at the kitchen table, licking a purloined popsicle with sheer delight.
As I stared at him, I knew what was coming. Sure enough, he stopped licking, gave me those eyes and said, "Mommy, I not gonna do it a-n-y-more."
I was all set to tell him that he had better not say that anymore, when suddenly, like that morning's first shofar blasts, it hit me.
I do this all the time.
Especially around Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur.
Throughout the year, I make mistakes. I say things I shouldn't. I listen to them, too. I don't pray with proper concentration. I raise my voice. The list is much longer.
But as the High Holidays approach, I wake up and hear the shofar, and I know that I have to clean up my act, fast.
So what do I say to God?
I'll tell you what I say.
"Hashem, please forgive me. I'm not gonna do any of it a-n-y-more."
Instead of letting little Meir have it, I let little me have it.
Do I mean what I say? Do I really think that I'm never going to do these things again? Who am I kidding?
But I'm not kidding, I answered myself. I want to be better. I really do.
And my children? Don't they deserve the same chance that I am oh so willing to extend to myself? Might Meir, when he's caught, be just as sincere as I believe myself to be?
I sat down next to him, took his sticky hands in mine, and held him on my lap. "If we are like children," we say after each set of shofar blasts on Rosh Hashanah, "have mercy upon us as a father has on his children."
Our sages teach us that God deals with us as we deal with others. Beseeching Him to have mercy upon us as a father means that we parents have a special opportunity to "tip the scales." If we view our children's behavior as a metaphor for our relationship with our own Father in Heaven, we might not be so quick to pass judgment on them.
After all, if God can continue to believe His children's promises of "I'm not gonna do it a-n-y-more," year after year, shouldn't we be able to do the same?
Of course there are lessons that we must teach our children. But if we deliver those lessons with love and understanding, we may merit the same from above.
May that merit be ours, now, as the New Year approaches.
Dafna Breines, an editor and translator, lives with her husband and children in Beitar Eilit, Israel.